Speeches & Floor Statements

Floor Remarks of U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) -- Debt-Reduction Agreement

Posted on August 2, 2011

Madam President, finally, Washington is taking some responsibility for spending money that we don't have.  At a time when the Federal Government is borrowing 40 cents of every dollar it spends, this is a welcome change in behavior.  I gladly support it.  Make no mistake, this is a change in behavior -- from spend, spend, spend, to cut, cut, cut.  Let me give you one example. 

On Christmas Eve 2010 Congress raised the debt ceiling and attached to it $1 trillion in new spending over 10 years in the new health care law.  This time, for every dollar we are raising the debt ceiling, we are reducing spending by a dollar, not adding to it.  This reduction in spending over 10 years is about $2.4 trillion. 

Here is another example:  According to Senator Portman, who used to be the Nation's budget director, the CBO would say if Congress did this kind of dollar-for-dollar reduction for spending every time a President asked us to raise the debt ceiling, we would balance the budget in 10 years.

Here is another:  The Wall Street Journal reported yesterday that because of these spending cuts, the discretionary part of the budget, which is about 39 percent of the entire Federal budget, will grow over the next 10 years at a little less than the rate of inflation.  If we could control the rest of the budget so that it would grow to anything close to the rate of inflation, we would balance the budget in no time. 

Balancing the budget is exactly what our goal ought to be.  I did it every year as Governor of Tennessee.  Families in America do it every day.  It is time to balance the government's books and live within our means. 

These spending reductions are an important step, but they are just one step, and no one should underestimate how difficult the next steps will be.  These spending cuts do almost nothing to restructure Medicare and Social Security so that seniors can count on them and taxpayers can afford them. 

The President's budget projections still double and triple the Federal debt.  Under the President's budget, according to the CBO, in 10 years we will be spending more in interest on the debt than we now spend on national defense. 

In January 2013, the very first thing the next President will have to do is to ask the Congress to increase the debt ceiling.  This problem wasn't created overnight, and it will not be solved overnight.  If I were sitting at Union Station trying to catch a train to New York and someone offered me a ticket to Philadelphia or Baltimore, I would take it, and I would find a way to get to New York from there.

Today's vote is an opportunity to take an important step in the right direction, toward stopping Washington from spending money it doesn't have.  We should take it and then get ready to find ways to take the next steps.

I yield the floor.